I have to make a confession: I have, like many men, only a modest fashion sense. To the extent that I happen to dress very well on occasion, I often owe a good bit of my appearance to my wife, whose expertise in assembling a look is rather impressive. (She’s a virtuoso, and not only by comparison to me.) I mean: I’m not inept, but I don’t have much fluency with the basic principles of fashion. It’s a language I just don’t speak at more than an everyday level. And I’m fine with that.
Because of my general unfamiliarity with the discourse of clothing, I have typically shied away from participating in the process of costume design for my shows. I just figure: everyone else is going to have much smarter things to say than me, so I’d best just leave myself out of the picture. To date, it hasn’t really mattered.
For REALS, though, I knew I couldn’t just sit idly by. Given that this is a play about real-life superheroes, many of whom wear rather impressive costumes (and some of whom just look silly), and given how central my characters’ costumes are to the story, I knew I’d be eager to add my two cents (if also nervous about doing so). I also knew we needed a first-rate costume designer… and we got one. Kendra Rai has done some of the most large-scale, ambitious, adventurous costume design in the city. I was thrilled when I heard she agreed to come on board.
From the get-go, Kendra’s first designs were thrilling. I pored over them obsessively, imagining so many permutations of color and shape and cut, thinking about the practical implications of every choice. Seriously, I’d almost be embarrassed to admit how much time I spent calling up the images she sent on my iPad, staring at them, and showing them to my wife. Look at this, honey! Did you see this armband? And look at this boot! I was a kid in a costume shop.
And then I got the chance to sit down with Kendra (and my brilliant friend and director Shirley Serotsky) and talk about the options she’d presented us. Our conversation definitely ranged into some unlikely (but quite exciting) territory: how a cape might inhibit movement (a lot), whether a real-life superhero team would want color-coordinated costumes or not (not), how many colors were too much for one costume (three), and what practical purposes a secret pocket might serve (come see the show to find out). And the best thing? Kendra never made me feel like a big old idiot, not even once. I mean… I asked a few somewhat naive questions, and she just rolled with them, as did Shirley. I felt very thoroughly indulged by them both. And I absolutely LOVE where we ended up.
What I’m left with, after that experience, is a new resolution: to become smarter than I have been to date about costume design. (Hey, maybe whatever I learn will transfer to my everyday fashion sense, too!) I shouldn’t really ignore it any more — it’s part of what we do, after all, and it’s important. I also have to admit that I really enjoyed thinking about it, too… more than I expected I would. In any event, anything that will make me a better collaborator and contributor to cross-disciplinary theater-making I am totally up for.